Horses: A Spiritual Prescription for Women
By: Anne Shrago,
Equine Essence, Inc.
How do horses help heal us and maintain our spiritual growth? Horses teach us that living in the moment bring us peace, serenity and connection. Horses offer us a prescription for spirituality embodied by their natural behavior. We can learn from horses by incorporating their daily life-way into our own life.
Communing with horses can help fill any emptiness we may feel from our stressful lives. Horses cannot change the rules and expectations of modern society, but they can help us thrive by offering new perspectives by which to live. Workshops using horses for human experiential self-growth or psychotherapy are becoming more abundant because horses are masters of intuitive communication.
Please allow me to share a little of my background prior to discussing a few of the horse’s life-ways.
I experienced prejudice as a child. I was different – different ethnicity, different physical appearance and a different presence. I spent all of my free time with the horses. The time spent with my horses, I felt whole and accepted. As a result of my childhood experiences, I tolerate no form of prejudice.
Horses have been a constant in my life. As I became a teenager, my interests normally turned to boys and social gatherings, but never did I give up horses! As an adult, horses have offered me comfort and healing in times of stress and change, such as graduate school, marriage, divorce, chronic illness, accidents and emotional pain. The horses always teach me to come back to what is truly important in life, which is the connection to All-Things, the appreciation of the simplicity of Nature that represents a love and respect of life for me.
The horses always give me a place in their herd where there are no judgments, no rejections and complete acceptance. I feel loved and connected and have made many friends through horses.
To be an “alpha” in my herd of horses reminds me that, in this authentic community, leadership is one of nurturing, relationship, safety and security. Contrast that with leadership in most corporate workplaces! The horse has empowered me to stand up without fear for what I believe is ethically and morally right. The horse has also taught me awareness of body language and non-verbal communication such that I can better recognize human body language sans vocal speech.
What are some of the teachings in which horses help heal and empower us?
Horses live in the here and now and do not worry about the past or the future. Horses have a contentment and peace that we desire in our lives. Learning to be present with our horses allows us to experience this contentment and peace. Being present de-emphasizes our worries about what has happened in the past and increases our awareness that the past is history. Being present also diminishes our worries about future events that are possibly out of our control. When considering the future, positive and forward moving questions we can ask ourselves are – what do we want to happen, what do we want to do and where do we want to be – and we can learn to abolish negative thoughts.
Being present is an ability to go with the flow of nature. Learning to go with the flow with our horses will expand our openness without predetermined expectations. The ability to flow with nature in the present is a basic principle of classical Taoism. As our openness grows, we are receptive to new possibilities, new ideas, new experiences and new ways of viewing the world. Learning to live in the present alongside our horse allows our empathy to grow and expels narrow-mindedness.
The peace we obtain from the contentment of being present is the foundation of connectedness, compassion and relationship enhancement. An inner state of calm and well-being enhances our serenity and diminishes anger, violence and worry. Horses teach us to be aware, assess a situation, find a solution and go back to just being in the present.
Horses teach us that living in the moment bring us peace, serenity and connection.
Acceptance into an Authentic Community.
In an authentic community, your feelings are honestly heard, respected and kept sacred. Your feelings will not be passed onto others outside the community where the feelings you share may be used against you. Your feelings are safe and kept within the community. Living in authenticity with others, the acceptance of each other for who we are and the acceptance of diversity brings harmony and balance into our life and helps ward off loneliness, by knowing we are not alone having authentic community support, and low self-esteem, by knowing we are accepted for who we are.
Horses live authentically by nature. The horse is a herd animal that lives in the moment, has no agenda, and displays truthfulness. Humans often feel obligated to hide their true selves and present what society expects them to be. Living in such an unauthentic community is a tough way to live. For example, confiding your deepest feelings to other people, only to have others gossip about your thoughts and possibly having your deepest feelings come back to you can be a harmful and painful experience for you. Horses can help us to learn to trust our personal feelings and act consequently.
We hear numerous accounts about little girls and adult women sharing their hopes, dreams and fears only with their equines. How many manes have we moistened as we reveal all our thoughts and troubles to our equine companions? How many bonds of lasting, trusting relationships between female and equine survive numerous conflicts and break-ups with family, significant others and spouses? How many soft nudges and warm breaths do we encounter from our horses in return for our honesty? We know these answers intuitively.
Notice how horses are extremely aware of their environment? If they are not alert, they may risk critical consequences.
If we are not alert, we too may risk critical consequences and miss elements in life such as opportunities for connection, relationship, gratitude and grace. If we are so tied up in our personal trials and tribulations, we may miss someone reaching out to help and love us. We may miss others’ expressions of thanks for something good we did in their behalf. We may lose time with those we love. When I was a teenager, my grandmother, who was slowly dying, always asked for a little bit of my time for us to spend together. We spent much time together when I was a child. But as a teenager, I was too eager to meet my friends to go out and do what teenagers do. Upon her death, I, at age nineteen, regretted not spending more time with her in her last years of life. All she asked for was a little bit of my time, but I was too selfish then of my own desires to grant her request, and as a result, I lost time with someone who dearly loved me and I dearly loved back. These are hard lessons to learn.
When we are attentive, we become aware. As our awareness grows, distractions and stress diminish because we learn to listen to what others are telling us. And when we listen to each other, mutual trust and respect develop.
When I developed ergonomic pain from computers at work, I asked my management for help to deal with the pain without sacrificing my quality of work. But I was repeatedly told to stop complaining and get back to work. My management chose to not listen to me, thus I eventually lost the trust and respect I once had for them and my stress in an already stressful environment increased. If we had only listened to each other, that stress could have been minimized and the trust maintained.
Beauty encompasses those who are aware. The Navajo saying “May you walk in Beauty” means beauty is a path we travel and all that surrounds us on that path are gifts of nature. We can become aware of both outer and inner expressions of beauty. We can see the green trees as more colorful. We can see the shapes of flowers as a work of art. We can observe and respect a rabbit as a sentient being. We can look beneath the physical body of a person and see their true soul. For example, somebody society shuns as being “too fat” can become our best friend and confidante if we only give them the respect and time they deserve. If we are unaware, we may ignore the beauty and art of nature and its creatures, and we may miss the inner beauty of a person society has labeled as “physically ugly”.
To be aware, to walk in beauty, brings us back to simplicity. Personally, I can recall many days of stress and distractive complexity at work. I would rush home to a beautiful horse and his grace would return me to the beauty of nature and what is truly important in life. After a normal day at work surrounded by ego struggles, people talking about others behind their backs, irate clients and malfunctioning computers, coming home to be with my horse would melt away the stress. Being among horses reminds me that the stress I experience in society is not worth my energy expenditure and the source of that stress is not that important in the larger scheme of life. The horses are part of my existence and every day, they return me to nature’s beauty and life’s importance.
To walk in beauty requires listening. Listening to our horses, learning their language, learning their expressions and what they have to tell us will increase our awareness. I have a chestnut horse, Dude, that has very slight degenerative arthritis in his right front pastern. Recently, I hopped on him bareback and had planned to enjoy his nice canter. But his stride was choppy that day; whereas, his stride usually is wonderful. Maybe he played too much in pasture earlier. Activity is good for arthritis, so we mostly walked. We did jog a very little bit, cantered a very little bit on his left lead but when asked to canter on his right lead, he did and he stopped because it was too much. I certainly was not going to make him do something that he is telling me is physically too much for him that day. Many people would probably “make that horse canter”. However, I chose to listen to him the whole time and let him tell me what he could and could not do. He turned his head around while I was mounted and nuzzled my legs with love.
Horses know when you listen to them. Mutual trust and respect develop when we listen.
Native American seers advise one to speak half as much as one listens. With horses, we don’t need to vocally speak at all, allowing our senses of awareness to flourish through non-verbal communication. Horses communicate mainly by body language. They easily read our body language. One time I injured myself by accidentally poking the end of a dressage whip in my right eye. Ouch! The Pain! I went into the pasture, the sunlight bothering my eyes, and my thoughts screamed “Denmark! I need you!” Denmark quickly came to me when I asked for his presence.
When I leave town for an extended period of time, I miss my horses so much! Upon my return, I rush to the barn and Denmark nickers low when he sees me “Where have you been? Come here!”. Dude will lay his head on my chest “You’re home.”. I fuss them up with love. When I go to Dude, Denmark whinnies “Come BACK!”. When I go to Denmark, Dude shrills in his trademark high decibel whinny “Hey! Back Here!”. Their antics are really quite amusing and they make me laugh.
Our body language is reflected by our thoughts. Spoken words may be untruthful, but body language never lies.
Acceptance without Judgment.
Acceptance for the person we are, despite ethnicity, social status, religion, physical appearances, background and education, is a reality when we share our time with horses. Horses are non-judgmental and accept us for who we are. They do not care if we walk different, if our skin color is different, if we look different, if we act different or if we have disabilities. Horses see our true nature and our true soul, and accept who we are.
We can tell our horses anything. Trusting our personal feelings were safe with a person only to discover that person has betrayed our trust contributes to the development of this human mask of hiding who we really are. “When I pull in here every day, he talks to me. I’ve been talking to him for years, telling him all the important things in my life and the unimportant things, too. He’s always listened.” – Debbie Benkert-Curtis in the Asbury (New Jersey) Park Press, about her 36-year-old American Quarter Horse, Red Dugger.1
Justice demands that we are fair to All-Things – people, animals, environment and nature - and that we treat All-Things with dignity and respect. Around horses, we can live with dignity, respect and equality and escape oppression from that “other” world. We can then return to that “other” world with different perspectives. When I developed ergonomic health issues at work, I eventually left a stressful workplace for two months on medical disability. I spent much time with my horses during those two months. When I went back to work part-time, stressful situations like deadlines no longer bothered me. I simply did my very best as usual, but without the worry, and always beat the deadlines with quality work, stress-free!
“The Buddha taught lay people the virtue of making the seven offerings that cost nothing…a compassionate eye, a smiling face, loving words, physical service, a warm heart, a seat, and lodging.” – Jiko Kuhno from “Right View, Right Life”2
The above quote resonates strongly with the woman-horse bond. We are compassionate towards our horses. When they hurt, we hurt. When they are unhappy, we are unhappy. As we open our hearts and minds to our horses, we begin to understand their nature and our relationships grow. When we become part of a trusting human-equine relationship, we begin to notice when we hurt, they seek to soothe our pain. When we are unhappy, they seek to comfort us. Our loving words reflect our loving body language. With horses, we don’t even have to use words. All we have to do is think what we feel and the passion will flow from our hearts. The horses sense this passion.
During the two months I was on medical disability leave from work, I was still experiencing much physical pain and the emotional pain that accompanies physical pain. I went into the pasture with my heart’s desire for my horses to help me. As I laid down against the round bales of hay, one of my horses licked me from head to toe, and very gently. His warm tongue and my laughter and giggles from his tickles and his actions made me forget the pain at that moment. My heart’s desire was heard by my horse.
One of my finest joys is to enter the pasture and think “Denmark, what do you desire right now?”. Denmark will sidle up to me and present to me where he wants to be scratched. As I scratch his itchy spot, his show of ecstasy brings much joy to both of us.
We take care of our horses. We clean their stalls, groom them and insure their safe environment and health. We provide for them and, in return, they become our true companions. To touch a horse gently and to be touched gently by a horse causes the love to soar within our hearts.
Nurturing is powerful medicine for our psyche as nurturing helps us achieve balance in our lives by inner self-discovery and outer involvement with others.
Our society has deviated from the ways of living close to the Earth.
Humankind has evolved from an interactive consciousness of nature and connection with All-Things to a society full of control, rules and expected order. James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, discusses in his book, The Tenth Insight, how we react to these types of societies that impose rules, control and defined order upon us. Our reactions, termed “the Fear” by Redfield, result in a need to “protect ourselves from the Fear, at times losing sight of the purpose, falling into the angst of separation and abandonment.” Redfield continues to discuss how our reactions to this Fear, involving our “frightened self-protection”, is manifested by fighting to maintain our self-power, “stealing energy from others” through power and ego struggles, and resisting change even if change would result in a better life-way.3 Horses bring us back to our birthright connection to nature and All-Things … if we let them. Let horses teach us to just “be”. Observe horses’ herd behavior and note their nurturing community. Watch them actively tackle a situation and then go back to just “being”. Absorb the peace of their community.
Horses are prey and herd animals. They must be aware of their surroundings and their senses must be highly attuned. Their trust and security in their community (herd) are genetically critical to their survival. Horses can detect our fears and imbalance from a distance. Their gift of detecting fear from afar is ingrained in their genetic makeup. Domesticated horses are more in tune with human nature as a result of the long-standing human-horse partnership throughout thousands of years. This partnership has not always been fair on the human’s part, one example of unfairness exemplified by human abuse instead of deserved respect towards the horse’s role as a beast of burden, but the horse has remained honest and true.
Women may also be viewed as prey animals in a sense. Humans are predators; yet, the human female has been (and still is, in some cases) oppressed for many years. In modern western society, statistical studies demonstrate that women often “rank” lower than men when salaries for equal jobs and promotional opportunities are compared. Women have societal expectations upon them that can be overwhelming. Societal expectations may include demands that women be pretty, slim, have a job, take care of the children and keep the house clean. Why women find peace, serenity and security in the equine presence is understood when considering the yin/yang balance described below. I wish to emphasize that any human who has felt alienated from modern society and any human who seeks more peace and understanding of a good life-way will discover the same positive results from the human-horse relationship.
The bond between woman and horse is no accident. Horses express the “yang” (masculine attributes) when necessary, but primarily live in the “yin” (feminine attributes). Lao Tzu, the Old Master of Taoism, is quoted “Know the Yang but Keep to the Yin”. The Tao, also known as the “Way” or the “Path”, is based on the flourishment of human life in accordance with nature, simplicity and a free-and-easy approach to life known as “wu-wei”. Linda Kohanov, author of The Tao of Equus and Riding Between the Worlds, describes the yang vs. yin as: male vs. female, predator vs. prey, sedentary vs. nomadic, territory vs. relationship, goal vs. process, intellect/reason vs. emotion/intuition, focus vs. wide view, strategy vs. responsiveness, action vs. non-action/not doing, competition vs. cooperation. 4 If we review the yin attributes above, we see horses do follow the yin (feminine) lifestyle. Understanding the yin/yang approach to life and the horse’s yin lifestyle can help all of us, women and men, to achieve spiritual comfort from the horse’s teachings. We learn from the horse to live in the present, to nurture relationships, to follow one’s emotions and intuitions, to realize that process is more valuable than the goal and that to cooperate with others is more gratifying than to compete against others.
Horses, like All-Things, possess both yang and yin to make a whole. This concept of life is the basis of classical Taoism.5 If we study Linda Kohanov’s yin/yang definitions above, we see that the equine daily lifestyle is a predominant yin lifestyle.6 Many people I know prefer to live a yin lifestyle, yet they attempt to suppress it because living in the yin in today’s modern society is often not acceptable. For example, displaying emotion at your job is usually unacceptable. Corporations strive for the goal, the bottom line, overlooking the process which involves the human resource. People often train their horses based on dominance instead of a cooperative partnership.
In conclusion, horses are sage teachers who will open our souls when we are ready to live a whole and authentic life. My horses ground me. I cannot describe in words how my heart soars when I drive down that long driveway and my special horse sees my truck and makes his way to eagerly greet me at the gate before I am physically there. When I am with them, I feel free, weightless and peaceful. While in their presence, they offer me life-way examples that I can apply to my own life. My passion is to share with others the horse’s way and how we can incorporate these ways into our lives. This essay introduces some of the ways horses can open our souls. Let your journey of self-growth and discovery begin as a student of the horse.
Email: Equine Essence